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Capt. Mike opens outsider art gallery in Lockeford

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Posted: Friday, August 2, 2013 12:00 am

There is nothing traditional about the new art gallery in Lockeford, unless you count the exuberance and enthusiasm of its curator.

Capt. Mike’s Outsider Art Galley celebrated its grand opening on July 27 to steady crowds of locals, students and couples out on a weekend drive.

Curator and owner Mike Mellott, 66, has hoarded paintings, pottery, carvings and sculptures in his home in Simi Valley for 40 years.

“It just kind of happened. I’m a collector. I have so much that (opening a gallery) became the thing to do. It gets to that point,” he said.

In a green Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, Mellott darted around his gallery on opening day, serving drinks to a couple that just walked in, answering a question about an artist friend for a woman perusing the Cuban art, and announcing the next winner of a bright green “I survives Capt. Mike’s Grand Opening” T-shirt. Mellott doled out the shirts, bottles of Corona and shots of tequila with equal enthusiasm.

“Hi!” he hollered to each incoming visitor. “Welcome to Captain Mike’s!”

Big Bird, a blue parrot, surveyed the scene from a white wire cage in the heart of the gallery. Each painting had a handwritten price tag taped on, dangling against the wall.

It’s a transition from his former life, but also an expression of his passion for art.

Mellott ran a VIP restroom company in Simi Valley for movie studios working on location. He owned 30 trailers with showers, bathrooms and dressing rooms, and rented them out for $800 a day. Those profits fueled his art-buying obsession.

These days, he still has the house in Simi Valley, but he calls Lockeford home. He’s in the market for a 65-foot houseboat so he can get back to his captaining days.

“I used to come up here all the time. We’d take the houseboat up the coast and party here. It just seemed like a natural fit,” he said.

Mellott’s collection is characterized by bold lines, bright colors, and not being shy about making a statement. The gallery displays Cuban, Mexican and African art, as well as oil paintings, ducks carved from wood, handcrafted mugs and pottery with ghoulish faces. There are about 1,100 pieces just in the display rooms, all of which Mellott has picked by hand.

“I look for art that intrigues people, and me. It’s everything: theme, texture, colors. I look for something that is out of the normal,” he said. “People want to see that the artist actually has ideas and vision.”

The works are largely considered outsider art, created by people without formal or technical artistic instruction. One wall of paintings was curated from an art school for people with mental disabilities in Sacramento. An artist who works feverishly through the night, using his hands and brush handle more often than the paintbrush itself, created another section. In the morning, he looks at the canvas to find out what he’s created.

“I don’t do the fruit in the bowl, little portrait type of art,” Mellott said. “I support the artists who paint what they want to paint, not what others want them to paint.”

Mellott considered opening a gallery in Lodi. He looked for a space, but didn’t feel like he would fit in.

“That’s old town money,” he said. “People don’t want to deal with my weirdness.”

Mellott received a warm welcome in Lockeford, a town that has seen more affluent days. He says the town needs help.

“I don’t mean to be hyping myself up here, but maybe some of the businesses here and I can help build this place back up to what it once was,” he said.

He’s already accomplished his biggest goal in simply opening the gallery. Before Mellott got his hands on it, the location was an overstuffed thrift store infested with mice and rats. Prepping the gallery took five months of remodeling, including one long weekend of hauling away leftover stock.

“This is my retirement,” he said. “I’m just here to have fun and enjoy.”

Though his studio, attic storage and home in Simi Valley are packed full of paintings and sculptures, Mellott is constantly curating online, looking at 2,000 to 3,000 pieces each day.

Mellott blames his obsessive and compulsive attitude for leading him to always expand his art collection.

“It’s like driving a boat. If I can go 35 and that’s great, how about 125? There is no limit,” he said.

He’s not an artist himself, he says, though he admits to playing with steel and gifting welding projects to friends. Running the gallery and introducing newcomers to his favorite artists is more fun.

Mellott thinks it’s a worthwhile labor of love. Even if a third of his customers come in expecting to browse a bait and tackle shop, based on the life preserver in the shop’s logo design.

“People come in here disappointed and leave amazed and enthused about art,” he said. “I’m so happy to do this.”

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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